Route 66 in the News

Twin Facelift on Route 66 in AZ

2009-09-23 21:24:37

It started with the arrows. The iconic namesakes of Twin Arrows, once reduced to battered telephone poles leaning into the wind that sweeps across Interstate 40, now glisten red and gold, new heads and fletchings -- tail feathers -- in place after a recent volunteer restoration effort.

But refurbishing the arrows wasn't so much about public art or tidiness as preserving a piece of culture and opening up a new economic portal, both for Flagstaff and the area Native Americans who hope to return the old rest stop to its former glory. In its halcyon days, Twin Arrows -- a rest stop at exit 219, about 20 miles east of Flagstaff -- was a slice of Americana, a gas station, diner and souvenir central for travelers along the famed Route 66; it operated for about 60 years before closing in 1998. Well before that, it was a trading post for the Hopi, who left petroglyphs etched into the walls of nearby Padre Canyon.

So Twin Arrows holds significance not just for enthusiasts of "The Mother Road" but for the Hopi tribe, which has owned the buildings and the wooden arrows for about 10 years. (The land itself is owned in trust by the Arizona State Land Department.)

Norman Honanie, a Hopi council representative and land team member, said the tribe's ambitions for the site include reopening the curio shop and diner. The store would showcase and sell authentic Native art, and traditional dancers would hold performances in the open area outside the small stucco building that still bears a faded mural declaring Twin Arrows the "Best 'Little' Stop on I-40."

Even sooner than that -- by next summer, Honanie estimates -- Twin Arrows could be home to a monthly "Indian Market," which would allow Native vendors to sell arts, crafts and other wares.

Twin Arrows would have a Hopi focus but also welcome other nearby tribes, such as the Navajo, Zuni, Hualapai or Havasupai. Just north of the site, Navajos are in early talks about their own major commercial endeavor: a $200 million, 150-room, 1,100-slot machine casino, spa and hotel complex.

Honanie said the casino and the Twin Arrows post would complement each other, bringing customers to one venue, who then might venture across the road. He pointed out that Twin Arrows is already known as a point of interest.

PRESERVING HISTORY

The arrows, literally the most high-profile aspect of the site, were given new life earlier this month as part of the International Route 66 Festival in Flagstaff. Honanie said the arrows are significant because they symbolize warrior pride. Sharlene Fouser, the byway coordinator for the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, said the site represents an entrepreneurial spirit.

About 60 volunteers from around the world pulled weeds, hauled away trash and restored the arrows. The buildings are still dilapidated and boarded up, and large ruined tires butt against the walls. But enough weeds and garbage were cleared to show concrete rings that were once flower beds.

The next step, Honanie said, would be to renovate the stucco hut -- once a spot to pay for gas and pick up motor oil -- into an information kiosk.

Fouser said Route 66 has lost many pieces of its mid-20th century history over the years, such as the small motels that still dot a stretch in east Flagstaff.

"Any time you have a success story like (Twin Arrows), you sleep a lot better at night," she said.

Fouser's Route 66 association secured a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to get the property assessed. That evaluation should take place later this fall, with the results used to give the tribe an idea of how much money to raise for refurbishing and to grease the wheels with the state to procure the land, or at least access.

Honanie said the Hopi tribe had always wanted the site to reclaim some of its roots, but hadn't always had a developed idea for it. He said plans to purchase the actual land from the state are still preliminary, with no date or price tag yet. But he does want to at least hammer out proper public access to the property to begin the market next summer.

"I would go so far as to say we've put down an anchor," he said.

THE CORN PARALLEL

Honanie said Twin Arrows is a seed to be germinated for the Hopi. It would be a place for artisans to create and sell items, for youth from the tribe to sell note cards with their drawings or learn customer service skills at the cafe and shop, and to get tourists comfortable enough with Hopi culture to visit the reservation. When they visit the reservation, local guides could show them around the trails, sparking an interest in getting active.

The arrows point straight into the ground. Corn seeds, to be of any use, also go into the ground.

"As Hopi, we rely on one thing that makes life very ensurable -- we need corn as a staple," Honanie said, drawing an analogy of nurturing the site like a crop. "It needs to be talked to, it needs to be sung to, it needs to have no bugs around."

Instead of ears of corn, Honanie hopes a livelihood will grow forth.

"And that's what they're going to harvest," he said.

~Hillary Davis, azdailysun.com

 

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